Posts from the ‘Snowshoe Hare’ Category

White Critters of Winter

Ermine Owl Ave feeders Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_4463Winter white is still all around us, even on this relatively late date of March 23rd…Still about 24 inches of snow in the woods…and we’ve had nearly 4 feet of snow since mid February. So I thought it was fitting for a photo round up of some of our white winter critters. The Ermine above was photographed near a feeding station in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota. Two Ermine were regularly feasting on deer rib cages and chunks of suet put out for the birds. They are quick critters and photographing them was a real challenge. In summer, they have brown pelage, but in winter they acquire a winter white coat save the black tip on their tail (photo below). It is one of the only mammals that has a different name in winter…Long-tailed Weasels become Ermine when they turn white. Note that some have a greenish tinge to their fur.
Ermine tail Owl Ave feeders Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_4457Ermine Sax-Zim MN IMG_0018358Fast critters! Ermine are carnivores and specialize in squeezing their narrow body in mice and vole tunnels.

Glaucous Gull Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_0072569The Glaucous Gull is a big bruiser of a gull…even larger than our Herring Gull. It is an arctic bird that nests only in the Far North including the North Slope of Alaska, Ellesmere Island, northern Labrador and Baffin Island. But we are fortunate that a few winter on the Great Lakes, especially in late fall and early winter when there is little ice on Lake Superior. This juvenile bird (note all white plumage and pink bill with black tip) was photographed in evening light against a dark background of the breakwall in Duluth’s Canal Park.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Sparky Stensaas IMG_0074842Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Sparky Stensaas IMG_0076189Snowy Owl Bong Airport Superior WI IMG_0074505 (1)The above Snow Owls were all photographed in nearby Superior Wisconsin near the Bong Airport…a suitable substitute for arctic tundra for this Snowy. Most of the birds we see in winter are young birds. They gravitate to the industrial ports of Duluth and Superior where there is plenty of food—pigeons, mice, voles, rabbits. To get a good viewing/hunting vantage point, they perch on light poles, buildings (including right above the main entrance to the Superior Middle School!), fences, and even spruce trees—an odd sight for a tundra-dwelling bird).

Snow Bunting Crex Meadows WI IMG_4878 (1)I love the black and white plumage of this lone male Snow Bunting that I recently photographed near Crex Meadows, Wisconsin. Note that he is nearly in spring breeding plumage, his back will become pure black as will his bill, but he’s worn off the yellowish and brown feather tips of winter. This is unusual in birds who usually go through a complete molt in spring. Snow Buntings only molt once, in the fall. They rely on the feather wear to reveal their spring plumage. They only grace us with their presence in late fall and winter, heading back north to their tundra homes in spring. Males arrive in the arctic when there is still snow and below zero temps to set up territories. Females return about three weeks later.

Northern Shrike nr Northwestern Middle School Poplar WI IMG_4031Shrikes are pint-sized bird predators who are only winter visitors to our “balmy” northern U.S. climes. They “tee-up” on tree tops in open areas to scan for small birds and mice/voles. They also appreciate our bird feeders…a real shrike smorgasboard! They nest in the taiga across Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavit, east to the northern Labrador Peninsula (northern Quebec and Newfoundland ). They are heading back north now. This cooperative dude was photographed near Poplar, Wisconsin. He allowed me to walk right up to him (usually they fly the instant you apply your car brakes!)
Snowshoe Hare Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0002192 copyRemaining motionless in a snow-blanketed environment is a good survival strategy unless a photographer has already spotted you alongside a Sax-Zim Bog road. This Snowshoe Hare is perfectly adapted to deep snow and extreme cold…and you need any advantage you can when you have feline predators such as Bobcat and Lynx after you.
Hoary Redpoll Matt Moses yard Solway Twp St. Louis Co MN IMG_4280Hoary Redpoll Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0076263It was a banner winter for Hoary Redpolls in northern Minnesota. Normally there is a ratio of about 1:100 Hoary’s vs. Common Redpolls. Hoary’s, like their name implies, are paler, whiter, frostier than Common’s, with limited streaking on their flanks, a stubby bill and “pushed in” face and very limited streaking on their rump. Both are winter visitors from the Arctic. They are still around but will soon be heading north.

Trumpeter Swans 2 flying backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073469How could I forget the largest white winter bird of all? The Trumpeter Swans congregate in the thousands on the Mississippi River near Monticello, Minnesota. A nuclear power plant keeps the river open even in the coldest temps.

Mallard albino Monticello MN IMG_0073451Leucistic Mallard. Okay, not naturally a white bird, but this Mallard was photographed this winter, and it is white-ish 🙂

[All photographed with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. All hand-held]

**PLEASE SPONSOR ME in my BIG HALF YEAR FOR THE BOG effort to photograph 150 species of birds in Minnesota before June 30th. I am over 60 species now. This is a fundraiser for my non-profit organization…Friends of Sax-Zim Bog. You can pledge per species or in a lump sum. I also have a gallery of images linked here too. THANKS!
SPARKY’S BIG HALF YEAR LINK HERE

GOOGLE PLUS GALLERY OF ALL MY BEST BIRD PHOTOS FROM 2013 HERE

Top Twenty Images of 2012

2012 is gone and I’ve had a chance to look at all my images from the year and pick my favorites. Time helps clear your vision. Some images I was crazy about right after I took them, are no longer exciting to me. Here I present my favorite images of 2012 in reverse order…Maybe not the most saleable nor necessarily the best portraits (which can be boring), but the shots that I kept coming back to..the ones that intrigued me…or were difficult to get…or were the most creative. And this last bit about creativity brings me to my big announcement for 2013…I will be releasing a new video: GET CREATIVE: WILDLIFE IMAGES BEYOND THE PORTRAIT this year. Stay tuned!

near Saginaw, Minnesota St. Louis County #20—The surprise image of the year…I was perusing photos from my June work for the Minnesota County Biological Survey when I found this very underexposed, blaah image. But then I saw the potential as a high-contrast black and white image. The result was a very graphic silhouette of a foraging Pine Warbler amongst the long delicate needles of a Red Pine. St. Louis County, Minnesota.

07-Best2012 Ruby-throated Hummingbird female and Liatris Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0064370 #19—I spent much quality time with our backyard hummers this summer. We mainly hosted females but occasionally a bully male would show up…but never when my camera was in place. I was using flash and a Better Beamer to throw light onto the hummer but in this shot the flash did not fire. But I like the resulting softer look…No harsh light blasting the tiny bird. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

11-Best2012 blurred leaves Rock Pond Duluth MN IMG_0067511 #18—Fall leaves always seem to vex me…I have a hard time creating interesting images of the stunning scenes around me in late September/early October. On this windy day I used a tripod and a very slow shutter speed to render the leaves a colorful blur while the trunks remained relatively still. I like the contrast of white vs. orange and blur vs. sharp. Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota.

16-Best2012 Bald Eagle from firetower at Big Bog SRA Koochiching Co MN IMG_0055770 (1) #17—Eye-level Bald Eagle shots are not easy to come by! And this one has a story…It was taken 80 feet up in a firetower! I was visiting Big Bog State Recreation Area in far north central Minnesota and decided to climb the tower to get a bird’s-eye view of Lower Red Lake and surrounding forests. Some distant eagles caught my attention and I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if one flies past me in my aerial perch…And the miraculous part is that one did! It was not a gleaming white and black adult but rather a dramatically patterned youngster. I panned with the bird and amazingly it came out razor sharp.

18-Best2012 Swans geese St. Louis River fog Fond du Lac MN IMG_0055161 #16—I cross this bridge over the St.Louis River on the outskirts of Duluth every day on the way to work. It has many moods and this hazy spring afternoon created a bucolic and blue still life of swans, ducks, ice and trees.

IMG_0070171 #15—My youngest son, Bjorn, shows great promise as a wildlife photographer…At least he looks good in khaki!

19-Best2012 Cedar Waxwing Gunflint Trail Brule River Cook Co MN File0113 #14—Not a set-up! A fortuitous find that resulted in a very nice portrait with a little behavior too. This very rarely happens but it did this August morning on the Gunflint Trail. I’d just returned from a early morning paddle on the Brule River, loaded up the canoe and was pulling out of the dirt parking area when I spotted the foraging Cedar Waxwings in a heavily-fruited Mountain Ash.

15-Best2012 water lily File0169 #13—Just a very pleasing composition (to me anyway)…a water lily on dark water taken from a low angle to get the reflection. I also love the purplish lily pads. Cook County, Minnesota.

04-Best2012 Lower Yellowstone Falls IMG_0067608 #12—A very long exposure with my 10mm Sigma lens was made possible by a 9-stop ND filter. I love the soft ethereal feel of the powerful Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, belying the thunderous roar. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

17-Best2012 Snowshoe Hare Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0002136 #11—I had to include this portrait as I have been trying to get a decent winter Snowshoe Hare photo for years! And on this snowy Sax-Zim Bog day, I succeeded! The hare really felt it was invisible and stayed put as I crawled closer and closer through the snow.

12-Best2012 Abandoned house and tree Itasca Co nr Northome MN IMG_0055660_59_58_tonemapped 88-0-7-4-10 #10—Seems like I always slip in a non-nature subject. I really enjoy photographing vernacular architecture, including abandoned buildings like this farmhouse. A HDR image and sepia color finished it off. Itasca County, Minnesota.

10-Best2012 Polyphemus Moth Antheraea polyphemus detail Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0057753 #9—Abstract macro image of a Polyphemus Moth’s wings turned upside down to create a strange “face” complete with big blue eyes and a puckered mouth. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

05-Best2012 Swinging bridge flood IMG_0058741 #8—The banner headline of 2012 for us Duluthians/Carltonians was the Great Flood of June. It affected all of us dramatically. But my most powerful image was this shot of the raging St. Louis River taking out the historic and much loved Swinging Bridge of Jay Cooke State Park. Read more here.

08-Best2012 Sharp-tailed Grouse Carlton Co MN IMG_0056142 #7—A rite of spring, the congregation of Sharp-tailed Grouse at their dancing grounds or leks, is an event I hate to miss. But it is always difficult shooting. They are most active just before sunrise when the light is poor…And it is April so the weather is often cloudy and windy. Visibility in the cramped blind is not great either. This time I resorted to a slow shutter speed and panning. I love the shot as it conveys the manic intensity of the males as they dance, pursue females, and chase off rival males. Carlton County, Minnesota.

09-Best2012 Moose bull called in Dumbell Rd Superior National Forest MN nr Isabella IMG_0066747 #6—One of the few straight-up wildlife portraits in the collection, but I had to include it. Much has been made of the dramatic decline of Moose in Minnesota…and it makes me very sad. They are one of my favorite mammals. I learned to call Moose years ago…imitating the sound of a female. After a several-year dry spell, I was able to call this young bull in this fall. Intense moments followed as he was deciding whether I was a cow Moose or some stupid human. Thankfully he came to the right conclusion! See the video here.

14-Best2012 abstract river rocks IMG_0069193 #5—Can you tell what this is? Colorful river rocks below a Yellowstone National Park stream. It’s funny…I really don’t like abstract painting but I love much abstract photography.

06-Best2012 Ring-billed Gull Duluth MN tungsten w-2 1-2 CTO gels on flash IMG_0065801 #4—Two icons of Duluth in one shot! The Aerial Lift Bridge and a Ring-billed Gull. Not your typical wildlife shot but one that is certainly unique. In this technique I learned from flash/lighting guru ??? you set your camera to tungsten white balance (to turn the dark brooding sky blue) and then use a flash with an orange CTO gel to throw a very warm light on the subject, in this case, a Ring-billed Gull.

13-Best2012 IMG_0068269 #3—Often times I’ll get home from a trip and when viewing my images in Aperture, I’ll come across an unexpected prize. It’s like Christmas as a kid! I thought I knew what my favorites would be from viewing them in the field on the back of my camera…but I’m often wrong. This is one such image. It was taken into the sunlight to backlight the Bison’s fur…but it was mostly a “G&G” shot (grab-and-go)…No premeditation, No tripod…Jump out of the car and “snap.” But after converting the image to sepia, I really loved it. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

02-Best2012 Monarch IA IMG_0065536 #2—I really concentrated on wide-angle wildlife this year and this may be my favorite. Crawling on my knees for hours on an Iowa prairie in September finally netted me this image. Read the whole story here. Northeast Iowa.

01-Best2012 Great Gray Owl peek-a-boo McDavitt Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0058141 #1—Drumroll please…My personal favorite from 2012. Read the whole story of this bog encounter here. See the video here. I like the Great Gray Owl’s furtive glance around the trunk of a spruce…It lends an air of mystery. It is very “Brandenburg’s-wolf-peek-esque” if you’ve ever seen his famous photo. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.

White on White: Snowshoe Hare


Finally, a cooperative Snowshoe Hare! These guys have been on my “hit list” for a long time. After completing their transformation from brown to white in early winter, they normally just disappear into the snowy landscape. And when you find one, it is often difficult to get a “clean shot” as they normally stick to dense brush and “dog hair” young Balsam Fir stands.

I found this gal (?) bounding down the road in front of me in northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. Her leaps must have been three feet vertical and ten feet horizontal as she tried to outrun the black beast (my Subaru)! I kept on going thinking her last dash into the willow brush would be the last time I saw her. But, optimism is the wildlife photographer’s best tool, so I turned around. Fortunately, she had decided to freeze right along the road. Motionless she sat as I eased out of the driver’s seat. I crawled around to the back of my car and got out my tripod. Fortunately, I had on my surplus Swedish Army wool pants so I could lay belly-down in the new snow.

Just then a car pulled alongside…This is the bane of all wildlife photographers…You may be on a little-traveled dirt road for hours without seeing a vehicle, but right when you spot a subject and start shooting, a car comes out of nowhere to scare off your quarry. But this time the driver used proper etiquette and backed up and parked behind me. I shot for about ten minutes, slowly getting closer and closer. The Snowshoe Hare sat motionless, hunkering lower and lower into the snow. In the hare’s mind, it was safe…No predator could see her…for she was white in a white world. This is the strategy hare’s use to avoid predation by their arch-enemy, the Canada Lynx. A useless strategy in “brown winters” like we had had up until recently.

After getting within 15 feet, I decided I’d gotten enough shots. As I crawled back to the car, the other car pulled up. In a southern twang, the lady said “You were like a setter on point…But we couldn’t see what you were looking at!” I pointed out the still-motionless hare. With much gratitude, they enjoyed a satisfying look at one of our cutest boreal mammals.

Here is the “snowshoe” part of a Snowshoe Hare! Huge, out-of-proportion rear feet help this bunny float over deep snow across its northern range. Of course, its main predator, the Canada Lynx, also has oversized paws!

Top: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 100
Middle: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 at f6.3; ISO 125
Rear End: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 125 (not quite fast enough shutter speed)